LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schröder are back, and look reasonably healthy as the playoffs approach. As a result, it should be no surprise that the Lakers’ new starters featuring that trio along with Andre Drummond and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were able to get their first win of the season in just their second game as a unit. They fairly easily took care of the Pacers, 122-115, on Saturday in their second-to-last game of the season to stay alive in the race for sixth place in the West.
There was a scare with one of the team’s patented four-plus minute scoring droughts in the fourth quarter, but hey, they wouldn’t be the Lakers if they didn’t give us some anxiety, right? And they still got the win, with James re-taking control with seven straight points when he needed to down the stretch.
Maybe he just wanted some practice closing out a game in the clutch?
And for the first three quarters, things were running smoothly in a game played by both sides with the defensive intensity of a glorified scrimmage. Drummond (11 points, 15 rebounds) looked much better next to two stars, James (24 points, 7 rebound and 8 assists) looked spry and rested, and Davis dominated the first quarter with 17 points to continue the roll he was on prior to sitting out last game, finishing with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
It was against the shorthanded Pacers, but that group looked so seamless together for much of this game in just their second appearance as a unit that it’s perhaps no wonder you have teams like the LA Clippers openly tanking to avoid a possible matchup with them.
They have a long way to go to help this team defend its title — look no further than their fourth quarter lull when they took their foot off the gas and settled for jumper after jumper for evidence — but for the first three, this was as good as the Lakers have looked offensively in a while. They may want to burn the tape of their defense in this one, though, and they’ll have to treat games like actual games and not glorified practices for the entire time if they want to win in the playoffs. But for one of their last dress rehearsals before the postseason, this was promising.
And as we mentioned above, this win also keeps the Lakers (41-30) alive in their hunt to avoid the play-in tournament next week. They could still pass the Portland Trail Blazers and get to the sixth seed in the Western Conference if both:
1. The Blazers lose to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. PT.
2. The Lakers beat the New Orleans Pelicans in their own final game of the season on Sunday at the same time.
The Nuggets would not appear to have a whole lot of motivation to send the Blazers to the play-in and set up a playoff rematch with a Lakers team they don’t match up well with, but we’ll see what they decide to do.
Asked by @mcten if he believes in the Basketball Gods or maneuvering for seeding, Vogel said this:— Play-in Game Faigen (@hmfaigen) May 15, 2021
"My opinion is win as many games as you can and let the seeds fall where they may. Be unafraid of any matchup. I would say I believe in the Basketball Gods."
If just one of those above events don’t happen, the Lakers will stay the seventh seed in the West and participate in the play-in this coming Wednesday, May 19. But after how good they looked today when their starters were in the game, they have to like their chances either way.